The United States under President Trump is contemplating whether to strike the Assad regime after its usage of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb Douma this past week.
The first and obvious option for the president is to follow up on the promise he made when he tweeted “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” on April 11th.
The United States has the backing of a strong and willing coalition to push forward a military option which includes France, the United Kingdom and even Saudi Arabia. Other leaders, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “Germany will not take part in military action, but we see and support that everything is done to send a signal that his use of chemical weapons is not acceptable.” Germany’s participation in a possible strike may come in other means. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated “we are not looking to be present in Syria.” Turkey’s response is a contradictory one: Prime Minister Binali Yildirim responded to the US-Russian spat as “street fighting” and continued on to say “They are fighting like street bullies. But who is paying the price? It’s civilians.” Turkey has very little credibility when it comes to protecting civilians, especially in Syria. The Turkish state just completed its illegal and aggressive air and ground campaign in northwest Syria in the predominately Kurdish canton of Afrin, which to date has a consequence of nothing short of a humanitarian crisis, Turkification process and ethnic cleansing.
From the time the President publicized his intentions to strike Syria, Assad forces vacated possible areas of targets such as airports, military air bases and outposts. Iranian proxies under the IRGC mainly Hezbollah have also dispersed critical zones that the US may see as fair game. Russian reactions to the president’s tweet were clear, “smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not towards the lawful government.” However, the West does not see the Assad regime as the lawful or legitimate government.
The second option President Trump has at his disposal is the diplomatic leverage the US can use towards Russia due to the pressure of a possible military strike- Russia’s commitment in Syria is deeply rooted in its military presence along the Mediterranean, not with the Assad regime. The United States can guarantee to Russia it can maintain its bases without US interference, and in return the Trump administration can demand the full ousting of the Assad regime and the removal of all Iranian proxies inside Syria including IRGC and Hezbollah.
A full-blown US strike on Syria can devastate the Assad regime, especially as he is close enough to declare victory in the seven-year civil war. A banishment of the regime from Syria is a swap Russia can tolerate because it simply does not have the appetite to be driven into a whole new war against the United States. The removal of Iranian proxies and their military bases will prove to the extent Russia truly controls Syria, if at all. With Assad and its Iranian allies out of the picture, Israel too will feel more secure and less reluctant to convince President Trump to strike.
Originally published at The Jerusalem Post on April 13, 2018.